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TTC, union in last-ditch talks

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TANNIS TOOHEY/TORONTO STAR

TTC subway cars sit on the tracks of the Greenwood yard yesterday, a reminder that a looming transit strike could shut down the entire system tomorrow morning. Commuters are scrambling for other transportation.

Little time left to avert walkout

KEVIN MCGRAN AND RAJU MUDHAR
STAFF REPORTERS

The TTC and its union will be back at the bargaining table this morning in a last-ditch effort to avert a massive strike tomorrow. The Ontario ministry of labour stepped in and asked both sides to start talking again.

“I want the people of Toronto to understand our members do not want a strike, no one wants a strike,” said Bob Kinnear, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113.

“We will do everything we can to reach an agreement (but) I cannot guarantee an outcome.”

The union rejected a TTC offer Friday of wage hikes of 2.75 per cent, 3 per cent and 3.25 per cent over three years and increased benefits and pensions.

Kinnear hinted last night that the union wanted wage hikes tied to cost-of-living increases and he said the union and the TTC were far apart on contracting out and work schedules.

“I cannot guarantee an outcome,” he said in a statement.

“The TTC and the union still have significant differences on wages, the contracting out of our work, and the right of our members to a normal family life without disruption at the whim of management.”

TTC chairman Howard Moscoe expressed guarded optimism on the resumption of talks.

“I am pleased we are going to go back to the table,” Moscoe said late last night. “I hope we can get it resolved.”

Members of the transit union offered no comments yesterday to refute Moscoe’s claim that management has met the union’s demands on wages, pensions, benefits, contracting-out language and workplace discipline issues.

Before last night’s announcement that the talks would resume today, Kinnear had not issued any statements since a Friday news conference.

“There’s nothing going on today. No talks are scheduled. That’s really all there is to say,” said his adviser, Bob Reno, yesterday afternoon.

Toronto Mayor David Miller had earlier told reporters that he’d talk with Premier Dalton McGuinty today about back-to-work legislation and other options to avert a TTC strike, but said his first choice is a negotiated settlement.

“I don’t believe the issues are that far apart, and it’s quite clear from what we heard … they aren’t, so we need both sides to start working and resolving those differences,” said Miller.

“We are doing everything in our power to ensure that the TTC will continue to run, that’s our goal.

“And I think Torontonians need to know that the transit commission has done everything it can.

“It made a very fair offer, so what we need now is for both sides to start talking again.”

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Kinnear said the TTC’s “final” $160-million offer to the 8,400-member local “falls short,” although he had said the union was looking for a 3 per cent pay raise each year.

The union had said it wouldn’t negotiate over the weekend if its deadline of noon Friday passed without an acceptable offer and, if that happened, it would go out on strike Monday morning.

A walkout would force approximately 600,000 TTC riders to walk, cycle or drive to work or school.

Friday, Kinnear said wages and contracting out were the major stumbling blocks. But Moscoe rebutted those statements within the hour.

After watching the union’s news conference on television, Moscoe said he was confused by the contracting-out issue. “I don’t understand what the union wants,” he said.

“The TTC has no plans to contract anything out … There has been no change in the language to contracting out at the TTC.”

As for the total package: “We’ve put all the money that we have on the table,” he said.

“There’s no more money. But we’re prepared to rearrange it, and reorganize it, and change work rules in order to avert a strike.”

Any “rearranging” of the offer could pit younger workers, who generally choose wage hikes, against older workers, who might prefer beefed-up pensions.

A strike would be an embarrassment to Miller, who is known as a union backer and defender of those who work in public service.

In past labour disputes, the TTC union has been ordered back to work by the provincial government.

The two-day 1999 strike was settled by an arbitrator; an eight-day 1991 strike was ended by back-to-work legislation.

If the union is legislated back to work this time, the next step would be binding arbitration. Arbitrators tend to side with unions on wages and with management on long-term issues such as benefits and pensions.

With files from Canadian Press




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